Today’s Gospel is one of the most baffling passages in the Bible. I mean, why is the steward praised for being dishonest?! But it has got me thinking this week about two words beginning with G. Generosity and gratitude.
We’ve just heard about a steward who wasn’t very good. He wasn’t doing his job properly and he gets himself the sack. He starts to think about his future and how bleak it may be, so he takes desperate action to win people over and get them to treat him kindly when he needs it. Having already squandered some of his master’s money, he decides to give more of it away by reducing some people’s debts. The money and the debts aren’t his to give away but he does it anyway. And then bizarrely his master praises him for it.
What the steward has done is taken a gift for which he is responsible and used it wisely to help both him and his master. We have to remember that this is a parable and so Jesus is not just talking about money but he is using this as an example about our whole spiritual life. Money itself is neutral. It’s how we use it that matters. And that’s the same with a lot of things. Jesus says, ‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ In fact, you cannot be the slave of anything else if you are totally trusting in God.
A key to this whole puzzle is the word used to describe the steward when he is praised by his master. We have just heard it translated as ‘dishonest’ but that doesn’t tell us the full story. It literally means ‘unjust,’ or ‘without justice.’ So the ‘dishonest steward’ is in fact the ‘unjust steward’ or the ‘steward without justice.’ I think that Jesus is telling us that the steward is going beyond the normal bounds of justice, and in fact is being generous with what has been given to him.
Remember that I said this isn’t all about money. We are given gifts and talents by God, which includes money, and we are made responsible for them. How we use them is what matters. God asks us to be generous in helping our fellow human person. And that is what I have experienced in my time here in Gorton.
Wherever I’ve gone people have been very generous with everything they have. You have been generous in welcoming me into your homes, and sharing your food with me, as well as your stories and your lives. You have been generous in letting me a part of funerals and sharing in one of the most difficult times in your life. You have been generous in welcoming me into the primary schools and allowing me to work with the children. You have been generous in taking me on Communion visits to some of the care homes. You have been generous in talking to me and wanting to spend time with me. You have been generous in sharing a laugh and a joke.
But you’ve not just been generous to me. I’ve noticed that there are many people with many gifts and talents who give up their time, money and use their particular gifts to serve the community. You all help each other in some way no matter how big or small. Even being humble enough to accept help is being generous.
The Safe project is a marvellous thing and I pray that it will continue to grow and build up God’s community here in Gorton. And I also pray the parish as a whole will continue to be so welcoming and generous.
The result of all this generosity is people left feeling grateful, and when we are grateful we become more generous, and so it comes full circle. Generosity leads to gratitude, gratitude leads to generosity and so on. Two experiences over the last few weeks spring to mind. First, I took Communion to a man who is your typical northern man. He doesn’t usually say much about himself or show much emotion. But as I was leaving he took my hand and said, ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Truly I do.’
And last week we had the children from Sacred Heart over for Mass. Fr Andrew was asking them what they could do this year to help other people. After the usual answers like help someone when they’re hurt, or be good for the teacher, I was surprised when one boy said, ‘Be grateful.’ He hit the nail on the head. Whatever our situation in life, we cannot help but be grateful for any gifts we have, remembering that all these gifts ultimately come from God.
And this takes me back to the word used to describe the steward in the Gospel, ‘unjust’ or ‘without justice.’ The one person who is truly beyond justice, the one person who truly gives unconditionally, the one person who generously provides us with everything we need is God. He is so beyond justice that even when we throw away the gifts he has given us, or we don’t use them to serve him and his people, he still forgives us and keeps giving, if only we can recognise that and ask.
So I’ll finish with two simple but powerful words that I hope sum up my attitude both to God and to you. Thank you.